Pilot program to test autonomous robots' potential for picking up food waste for compost in Corktown

What’s happening: It was just last month when we shared that a trash-picking robot would begin combing Belle Isle Beach for litter this summer. Now another mobility pilot program will soon deploy an autonomous robot in Corktown to pick up food waste for compost.

Who’s behind it: Atlanta-based tech accelerator Orange Sparkle Ball has received funding support from the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform to build an Autonomous Robotic Pickup Platform in Detroit. The company plans a series of pilot programs in Corktown’s Transportation Innovation Zone, utilizing autonomous robot technology for picking up “end-of-life materials,” which begins with the food waste pilot.

What’s planned: The first pilot program will partner California-based autonomous robot startup Ottonomy with Scrap Soils, a Detroit-based composting startup, and the Corktown urban farm Brother Nature. The pilot program will collect residential and commercial food waste in Corktown, which will then be composted. Orange Sparkle Ball plans to launch additional pilot programs throughout 2024, partnering autonomous technologies with local companies to further explore the technology’s ability for picking up “end-of-life materials” and filling in gaps in city infrastructure.

How it’s happening: Orange Sparkle Ball is receiving funding from the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform (MMFP), which itself is administered by the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME). The state office launched MMFP to attract mobility and electrification companies to Michigan. The City of Detroit’s own “first-of-its-kind” innovation, the Transportation Innovation Zone from the City's Office of Mobility Innovation, allows for companies to fast-track mobility pilot programs within the Corktown neighborhood, which itself is a result of Ford’s mobility-centric Michigan Central campus.

Why it’s important: "The use of this technology for pickup has been under investigated, and we're happy to be exploring expanded use of autonomous robot technology. Additionally, as a Michigander, I'm particularly proud to be conducting these pilots in Detroit,” says Meaghan Kennedy, founder of Orange Sparkle Ball.

“The unique expedited permitting process implemented by the City of Detroit in a first-of-its-kind Transportation Innovation Zone and the mobility funding platform from the State of Michigan built to support startups is allowing us to explore new mobility use cases in Michigan, partnering with several Michigan-based technology companies and community partners."